In the event of exposure to a hazardous substance, especially a corrosive one, the first 10 to 15 seconds are critical. So much so that delaying treatment−even for a few seconds, could lead to a severe injury.
Emergency showers and eyewash stations provide on-the-spot decontamination. They allow workers to flush away hazardous substances from their eyes.
Accidental chemical exposures can still occur even with good engineering controls and safety measures. Therefore, emergency showers and eyewash stations are critical initial first aid responses to reduce the effects of accidental exposure to chemicals.
As for alkaline and acid burns, studies show that immediate care from an emergency shower or eyewash station can significantly impact victim outcomes – reducing mortality rates, the need for skin grafts, and the number of days spent in the hospital.
Emergency showers can also be used effectively in extinguishing clothing fires or for flushing contaminants off clothing.
Recent research has shown that, on average, up to 78%* of emergency showers and eyewash equipment in the typical facility is not working correctly and is non-compliant, but most importantly, not capable of providing proper first aid.
This puts both the employer and employee at risk. And since emergency showers and stations are crucial to reducing the impact of accidental exposure, a compliant one is a necessity. Here are the most common gaps in compliance outlined below.
The top 6 reasons for non-compliance
1. Incorrect application
The proper protection level should be based on potential dangers workers may face. The properties of the chemical substances used by workers and the tasks accomplished within the workplace will define the need for emergency showers or stations.
The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) is a great benchmark to determine the proper care based on the potential chemical exposure. For specific tasks or in certain work areas, the risks can lead to face or eye injuries for the worker. Consequently, an eye and face wash station may be required. In other situations, a body part or the entire body can be in contact with chemical products. In these areas, an emergency shower and an eye and face wash station may be more appropriate.
A risk analysis can provide an evaluation of the potential risks linked to the tasks and workstations. Then, the selection of the appropriate emergency equipment – combination shower, eye, and face wash station, or both – must be adapted to the identified risks.
The biggest gap in compliance is the use of inappropriate emergency equipment for the situation. This includes using a personal eyewash instead of an ANSI-standard eyewash that provides the required 15 minutes of flushing time, or an older installation of a combination shower with an eyewash only for chemical splashes, when an eyewash and face wash are more appropriate for emergency care.
2. Flow too strong
The eyewash station needs to provide a controlled flow to both eyes at a safe velocity. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to find the water flow to be too strong. A strong flow can lead to great discomfort for the user, causing them to avoid staying in the eyewash for the entire 15-minute flush period or cause injury to sensitive eye tissues in more severe cases.
3. Flow too weak
On the other hand, too weak a flow will not sufficiently rinse the exposed area in the prescribed time. This is also a common reason for non-compliance and impacts the ability to provide proper care.
4. Lack of proper flow pattern
The eyewash must provide flushing of both eyes simultaneously. The ideal way to check this is to use the eyewash gauge. Place the template over the heads, approximately 8 inches (20 cm), and check if the streams meet the two circles on the template.
5. Simultaneous use
A combination unit is designed to provide eye, face, and body flushing simultaneously. The standard requires that the body shower and eyewash operate simultaneously and meet the flow rate needed to provide sufficient flushing.
In addition to the flows being even, the alignment must allow the victim to rinse the eyes and body at the same time.
6. Water temperature
The 2014 ANSI standard recommends that the water should be “tepid” and defines this temperature as being between 16°C and 38°C (60°F and 100°F). Temperatures higher than 38°C (100°F) are harmful to the eyes and can permanently damage sensitive eye tissue. Cold water (less than 16°C (60°F)) can cause hypothermia and may result in not rinsing or showering for the full recommended time (ANSI 2014).
With thermal burns (injuries to the skin), the American Heart Association (2010) noted that water temperatures of 15°C to 25°C (59°F to 77°F) help to cool the burn and that “cooling reduces pain, edema, and depth of injury.” (However, do not apply ice directly to the skin.)
Remember that any chemical splash should be rinsed for a minimum of 15 minutes, but rinsing time can be up to 60 minutes. The temperature of the water should be one that can be tolerated for the required length of time. Water that is too cold or too hot will inhibit workers from rinsing or showering for as long as needed.
Experience has shown that despite weekly or monthly audits, there are significant gaps in compliance. Often, workers don’t have any formal training on the standard requirements and don’t know what to look for.
*According to Haws Corporation inspections.